Consumers Say Erie Limo Business 'Took Them for a Ride'
People across the country are outraged, saying they were scammed by an Erie businessman, after renting a limo for a special event.
Their weddings, bachelorette and birthday parties, they say were spoiled by surprising charges from the Erie-based company.
But, the fine print is what has them on the hook for the charges.
In an report only on Erie News Now, we investigate what's happening, and how the owner is getting away with it.
People, from at least 12 states across the country say they feel they were deceived, duped out of hundreds of dollars.
And perhaps while deceptive, what the owner of the company is doing, is apparently legal.
As Moira Nee, of Pittsburgh, planned her little sister's bachelorette party last July, she wanted a limo to drive the girls around North East wineries.
She called the first company that came up on Google, Erie Limo Services, and got a quote for about $400 dollars for four hours, plus gratuity.
She got a contract, was urged to sign it right away to secure the limo, and was charged about $600 the next day.
She called the owner, Matt Barnes, right away, “I was like what the hell is this, this isn't what we talked about,” said Nee.
She tells Erie News Now Barnes told her the higher cost he charged her was for things including gratuity and a 10% credit card transaction fee, “So I said no, I’m not interested, you can cancel please, he said, ‘If you want to cancel I'm still keeping your money,’ that's basically what he said and then I realized I was dealing with a scam,” said Nee.
The very next day, Nee got an additional $500 charge on her credit card, apparently just because she questioned the increase in the initial price she was quoted.
Thing is, in the very fine print of the contract, it states “If a purchaser charges back, disputes or inquires about any charge applied to their credit/debit card, purchaser authorizes a charge of $500 per transaction to be charged to the credit/debit card to cover fees, penalties, and or administration costs applied to or bared by the company.”
Nee then immediately contacted her credit card company, Chase Bank, and disputed the charges and requested they deny the company from making any more charges to her credit card.
But then, Barnes company charged her another $500 fee, because she disputed the charge with her credit card company.
In the end, Nee says she paid $1,600 for a limo she never stepped foot in.
Her sister’s bachelorette party visited the North East wineries in an Uber, “In my mind this is the very definition of a deceptive business practice, he's not being upfront with what's he's going to charge you… it's a scam but I guess it's operating within the confines of the law,” said Nee.
And Nee is not alone.
“I was completely blindsided by this,” said Eric Garcia-Tunon, of Miami, Florida.
He called what he thought was a Miami-based limo company to book an hour limo ride to the bowling alley for his son's 13th birthday, “He quoted me $250 for an hour, plus tip and service charge, I agreed to it, gave him my credit card information, signed the document which was two pages long,” Garcia-Tunon told Erie News Now.
After the celebration, he says his credit card was charged $750 dollars, $500 more than the initial quote.
Surprised, Garcia-Tunon called Barnes, who Garcia-Tunon says explained the extra charge was for the time it took the limo driver to go to and from the warehouse as well, “I asked him about the charge saying, it doesn’t make sense, I only used the limo for one hour, he said, ‘No you used it for two hours because the clock starts ticking when the limo leaves the warehouse where it's housed.”
Feeling he had been taken for a ride, he shrugged it off and learned a lesson. But then, “To make matters worse, he said well, because I had to research this information for you, the contract states that I have the right to charge you $500 and some odd dollars as a research fee, it was at that point I realized I had been bamboozled by this guy, he just ripped me off,” said Garcia-Tunon.
So, when all was said and done, Garcia-Tunon paid about $1,300 to the company, for a one hour limo ride.
But because of the contract they signed, technically, the Erie-based limo scheduling service did nothing wrong, legally.
And after complaints from people in 12 states, the Better Business Bureau investigated the Erie limo company and is issuing a warning about this “service charge.”
According to the BBB’s website, the companies run by Barnes are rated F, Barnes Professional Limousine service LLC and Walten Point Productions.
The BBB says the company provides limo rental services and operates around the county under names such as Erie Limo Services, Go VIP Worldwide, South Miami Limos, Barnes Worldwide, Baton Rouge Limo, and others.
According to the complaints filed with the BBB, consumers who rented limousine services through the aforementioned companies were charged hundreds of dollars more than what was originally quoted. When customers inquired about the increase in price, their credit or debit card on file was then charged an additional $500.
Pam Marlowe, of the Better Business Bureau in Erie, says this is an opportunity to remind consumers, that from limo rental to home repairs, to subscription services, you need to thoroughly read a contract before signing, “Any type of contract you sign, you need to read and understand every line of that contract,” said Marlowe.
For alleged victims like Nee and Garcia-Tunon, this has been an expensive lesson to learn, “When you have a crook that's trying to rip you off, he's going to try to find a way to rip you off, so this is exactly what this guy has been doing,” Garcia-Tunon. "He's ripping people off and not having a care to do it," Garcia Tunon continued.
Nee says it was an expensive lesson to learn, and she echos the advice of the BBB, “You sign the contract, so he's got you legally bound, that's pretty much how it works... Just be very wary of the businesses you're dealing with online. I can't even believe I was dumb to send my information to somebody like that, but he is posing as a legitimate business."
Erie News Now reached out to Matt Barnes and spoke to him at length, off the record, at his request. So Barnes did not provide any comments or response to the allegations against his various companies.
Below is an example of the contract Barnes provided a customer for limo service :